The small disputes, which appear separate, are coming together to form a movement, argues John Westmoreland
Lesley Leake, Marice Hall and Karen McGee are the ‘Kinsley Three’. They are three victims of the privatisation of education who are fighting back. Between the three of them there is over thirty years of cleaning experience at Kinsley Primary School. When the school was turned into Kinsley Academy the cleaning contract was handed over to C & D Cleaning by Wakefield Council.
C & D Cleaning do not recognise the women’s union, Unison. Nor do they value the excellent service the three have provided to the school for so long. In a classic piece of neoliberal spite the Head of Human Resources at C & D, Nick Thorpe, sent an email to Wakefield Unison which reads: “We do not recognise you or your organisation and subsequently we will not be entering into any form of dialogue with you in relation to our employees.”
In another email, he added: “I understand… the impact for you as an organisation when members realise that we are no longer living in the 1980s and they question the actual value of union membership when you have no say, power or influence over their employer.”
The company has cut the women’s pay from £7.85 an hour to just £7.20. The added duties demanded have actually reduced pay to less than £7. And there’s more.
The three did not go looking for a fight. They thought the firm would come round if they put their case reasonably. As Lesley puts it, “It wasn’t just the money we were losing, it was the stress that was affecting us and our families as well. “I would go home crying because it just felt we were being treated so unfairly and I didn’t know how I was going to pay the mortgage or the bills.”
It is good to see that Wakefield Unison is supporting its members as they enter their seventh week on strike. On Saturday they called a cracking demonstration in Barnsley where C & D are based. There were trade union banners and placards from across Yorkshire.
Tosh McDonald, President of Aslef, was among those who gave stirring speeches in support of the strikers. He connected the privatisation of the railways and the privatisation of education.
He was among many who pointed to “the red shoots of recovery”, and the common theme of the day that the small disputes, which appear separate, are coming together to form a movement. Tosh pledged “big support” for the strikers from his union and made the call to Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents, “stand up for the people who vote for you, and stop sucking up to the Bransons of this world”.
This dispute reveals to the Labour movement, the consequences of allowing the Tories to privatise our services and the shallowness of Tom Watson’s conference speech which claimed “capitalism is not the enemy” – it is.
John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.